Professional Development and Ways of Knowing

People don’t stop learning after they cease to be students. If you believe this, keep reading.

The changing landscape of expectations for learning leaders – teachers, administrators, coordinators – has changed the work we do to develop our programmes and our selves (Drago-Severson, 2009). The changing expectations for school and professional development are visible in the practices that are nurtured in our contexts. We speak of ‘pedagogical leadership’ and ‘collaborative planning and reflection’ practices, which explicitly describe the changing ways of knowing and working in our schools.

In designing how we work together, we might deliberately consider pedagogical planning, not just for our young learners, but also for our colleagues and ourselves.

Drago-Severson (2009) cites Kegan’s work on developmental stages of adult development, suggesting that adults have stages of development directly influencing how they learn and engage. The chart below summarizes the stages, characteristics of each stage, and the dispositions present in the learners at each stage (Powell & Kusuma-Powell, 2013).

Stages of Adult Learning. Copyright Powell & Kusuma-Powell (2013).
Stages of Adult Learning. Copyright Powell & Kusuma-Powell (2013).

The authors suggest that attending to the ways of knowing for individuals at each stage is key to professional development because these are the approaches that our colleagues use to make sense of the work we do together. They further caution that the stages of development are not linear; adults do not complete a stage and then move on to the next (Drago-Severson, 2009). Instead, the growth of adults is iterative and cyclical, and complex in that stages that precede others are incorporated into the complexity of stages reached (Powell & Kusuma-Powell, 2013).

In simple words, we are evolving as learners, and this evolution is messy work.

How might awareness of these ways of knowing shape how we design professional development?

Instrumental learning

Concrete tasks that are personally relevant require adults to work at instrumental levels. Learning a new Subject Guide, for instance, is a necessary concrete task. Instrumental learners appreciate guidance in knowing how to apply the principles in a subject guide to their own classroom.

Socializing learners

Collaborative planning and reflection is a social task. Perhaps collaborative planning, for instance on interdisciplinary units and subject overviews help social learners to feel psychologically safe that all in the group are tuned in to the same task with similar goals.

Self-authoring learners 

Self-authoring individuals appreciate clear vision underlining tasks. They appreciate opportunities to evaluate for themselves what they might learn from collaborative situations. They might seek to augment and enhance their own learning through self-chosen PLNs and focus groups.

Transformational learners

Transformational learners have the ability to tolerate ambiguity during times systems are incomplete or in progress. They see connections between systems in place to abstractions, paradoxes, and changing continuums. It’s OK with these folks that we are ‘building a plane in the air’ as illustrated in this video.

Professional development is no longer a one-size-fits-all design. Although we need quality-assured PD for our programmes to sustain implementation, we also need to differentiate in our planning so that all adult learners have pathways to learning that are personally significant to their own stages of growth as professionals.

The suggestion here is that perhaps the open-ended tasks that we set ourselves to achieve a healthy MYP (or any programme for that matter) require us to embrace the changing landscapes of expectations that take us forward. A set of metacognitive strategies might support the growth of our communities, wherein the answer “Read your subject guide” is just one of the ways to solve problems of changing practice. We must co-construct and support ways to learn for all ways of knowing.


Drago-Severson, E. (2009). Leading adult learning; Supporting adult development in our schools. New Delhi: Sage.

EDS. (2007, October 8). Airplane. Retrieved from

Powell, W., & Kusuma-Powell, O. (2013). The OIQ factor: Raising your school’s organizational intelligence; How schools can become cognitively, socially and emotionally smart. Melton, Woodbridge: John Catt.

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

One thought

  1. Thanks for this post, Aloha! It’s timely as we discuss a new vision and strategic plan, and I want to evolve our PD to professional learning, building the teacher learning communities we have into more powerful ‘professional inquiries’, using a modified Design/PP Cycle. I want us to embrace and celebrate the mess… for our own good and the good of our students. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.